Business schools don’t generally have the most progressive of reputations. Not only are many programs woefully lacking in diversity, critics have accused business schools of focusing on data and profits to the exclusion of other important things, such as ethics and people. Martin Parker, a professor of organization studies at the University of Bristol and no stranger to business school life, went so far as to accuse B-schools in 2018 of fostering a “culture of short-termism and greed.”
But business schools, much like the broader business world, are also under pressure to change. Cultural movements like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter have exposed continuing inequalities in the corporate world, while Covid-19 has forced companies to confront thorny ethical and psychological questions about everything from remote work policies to vaccine mandates. And business leaders are embracing the idea (if not always the practice) of conscious capitalism, which holds that companies are responsible not just to their shareholders but to their employees, customers, suppliers, and broader communities.
These developments are reshaping business schools’ calculations about what future management consultants and C-suite executives need to know—a change encapsulated by the eight courses that received the Aspen Institute’s Ideas Worth Teaching Awards for 2021.
The Aspen Institute, a nonprofit think tank based in Washington, says it aims to honor professors teaching students “new ideas about the role of business in creating a sustainable, inclusive society.” This year’s crop of winners included two classes centered on diversity and inclusion and two focused on sustainable finance, as well as others focusing on navigating ethical minefields like big data and even capitalism itself.
Here are the eight classes that received the award in 2021—with links to summaries of the course syllabi, should you be in the mood for some extracurricular reading.
Professor: Courtney McCluney
School: Cornell University; School of Industrial Labor Relations
Professor: Nicholas Pearce
School: Northwestern University; Kellogg School of Management
Professor: Kevin Werbach
School: University of Pennsylvania; The Wharton School
Professor: Swasti Gupta-Mukherjee
School: Loyola University Chicago; Quinlan School of Business
Professor: Emily Cox Pahnke
School: University of Washington; Foster School of Business
Professor: Lindsay Brant & Kate Rowbotham
School: Queen’s University; Smith School of Business
Professor: Kingsley Fong & William Wu
School: University of New South Wales; UNSW Business School
Professor: James Hoopes
School: Babson College